SHARON VAN ETTEN
Remind Me Tomorrow (Inertia)
There are times during this album where unease turns into something queasy, and times where something skin-tinglingly uncomfortable begins to burrow under like some parasite you can see move under that skin in a horror movie flashback.
For me that is. I can’t speak for Sharon Van Etten, though I would say for her, unease has probably already worked its way through and can be seen if not dispassionately then at least with enough distance to keep her gaze steady.
The weird thing about this feeling though is that Remind Me Tomorrow is in many ways a record of acceptance (of another; of the “now” rather than an imagined, or feared, future; of good as a probability), and in its sound base (synths, piano and keyboards leading rather than guitar, for a start) could be described as non-abrasive even as it is bigger and rockier than her previous work.
In some sense like a less suspicious-eyed Portishead or a more solidified Bat For Lashes, the messages of positivity and the counterpoint of scepticism play out sonically and lyrically, back and forth, and swapping roles as well.
The album opens with I Told You Everything, a spare, almost bleak soundscape that is essentially air and piano punctuated by a slouching bass, but Van Etten is glorying in the comfort of being able to share everything with someone, including a story that induces a “holy shit, you almost died” from them. The sound says alone; the words say together.
The Bowie-in-Berlin-esque (or maybe more relevantly, given she has moved to New York, the LCD Soundsystem-ish) Seventeen has a febrile, somewhat dark energy, like walking the streets of an unknown city, hemmed in by the buildings. But there’s also wonder and excitement, like walking the streets of an unknown city gazing up at the buildings. The dichotomy of mood is believable and real.
In a similar way, the propulsion of Comeback Kid, with its big-arse drums and assertive organ, throws us forward constantly like LCD, yet there’s the suggestion of recklessness or repercussions from such recklessness.
That’s something explored in retrospect in the creeping progress of Memorial Day, with its speculative saxophone and foreboding bass, and in anticipation in the astringent tones of Hands, where Van Etten’s voice is almost lost in a chorus that spins away rapidly.
And then there’s the rising tide of Jupiter 4 - quasi-Linn drum smacks inside enveloping synthesisers - that comes on like a clammy date with that budding incel Caleb Bond (I did say the album has the ability to induce queasiness), but reveals itself to be a declaration that “I’ve been waiting my whole life for someone like you” for “a love so real”.
“I want you to express yourself,” she says in the almost twinkling final track, Stay, and I think Van Etten, who has always leaned to the value of openness, emerges from this record on the upside – for herself and for those around her. And that’s a fascinating position if you’ve been following her for any of the past four albums.
But I’m not certain where I land, or even if where I land this time will be the same as where I landed yesterday, or where I’ll land tomorrow. Which is, I have to say, rather splendid.